The government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) closes today after three months during which the public has been given the option to share their view on trans rights.
The debate has been called “toxic” by many commentators. If you ask me, the word “toxic” has become toxic and overused by a social media debating culture. That said, the nature of the debate makes it a hard topic to talk about. It has become highly polarised and dominated by people who prefer to drop a piano on opinions rather than listen with compassion and an open mind.
This is a highly emotive subject. How could it not be? Diabolical abuse and bullying has been directed at trans people who are, currently, a very small visible minority and have had to suffer in silence.
I’ve been guilty of it myself in a dumb joke I used to do in my stand up routine which I would really like to put behind me. A woman left my show and wrote me a very angry note calling me a bigot. I was mortified and terribly upset. How could she leave a nasty note instead of talking to me and letting me know how my words had affected her?
Years on I think, why the hell should she have? Why should I expect someone who has had their feelings hurt by me to stay calm and take mine into consideration and perhaps spray perfume on her note and draw flowers in the margins?
These things rarely happen in isolation. My crappy joke would have merely been the tip of the iceberg of lots of crappy jokes and unkindness directed at her or someone she loved. It must be maddening to ask to hear the opinions of people who seem to be saying that your rights – your feelings – don’t matter as much as other people’s.
I have wanted to write about this for a while but I am quite reticent in the face of avalanches of “How can you have an opinion on this, you monster??” it is bound to illicit. But it’s been on my mind for weeks, so here goes.
I’m with Stonewall. The GRA is outdated. Bureaucracy and fees should be cut out of the way of someone being allowed to be who they are. If I was suffering in my own skin, I’d want to be able to make the change now, today, this minute. I would want the law to recognise me as the person I know I am.
My instinct on this has always been to allow self-identification because I have heard so many accounts of how agonising it is to wait or to have to fully transition before your gender is acknowledged – a few times in my own network of family and friends.
Listening to opinions and arguments from all sides, I’ve seen good-to-their-core people be insulted and shouted down when expressing concerns regarding prisons and safe spaces. These arguments, in the most part, are not made in bad faith. The lack of empathy has been troubling.
There is a physical difference between a cis woman and a trans woman. Imbalance in an arm wrestling contest aside, if cis women are concerned about this physical difference being intimidating in a women-only safe space then their concerns should not be shut down, they should not immediately be deemed hateful and transphobic.
People bring their own personal experiences and often traumas to this debate and without empathy we can’t move forward. Yes, some are Terfs and transphobes pushing their own agenda, but many voices are not and we have to engage, and be understanding. We must allow issues to be discussed without being reductive.
For the record, you cannot, whoever you are, just wander into a safe space for traumatised people and use their facilities. Anyone can ask for help, of course, but these centres have been dealing with safety for years and the idea that they might suddenly be overrun with predators is scaremongering at best.
The prison system we have does not go far enough to protect people from assault. That has to be addressed regardless of whether or not trans women and cis women are housed together.
Savage, awful people exist in all forms everywhere and we need to protect those who are vulnerable. I’m more than happy to admit I don’t have all the answers and we need ongoing assessment and debate.
People suffer when their gender is not recognised by law, or when the government sets boundaries that define their gender. When something is in law it is “normalised”. It’s a reassurance that equal rights will be given and prejudice is the abnormality.
That’s why same sex marriage and every other fight for equality was crucial. The law must see us and recognise us as the people we are. Concerns can still be raised – equality doesn’t mean silence, but our laws should protect people who for too long have been forced to remain invisible. Let people be who they are. Today.Column, The Independent, Writing